Caregiving—Challenges for The “Sandwich Generation”

Demographers call us the “sandwich generation.” We are the people who care for both children and aging parents at the same time. From my informal surveys of old, new and newly rediscovered friends on FB and other social media, I can tell you there are a variety of caregiving scenarios going on. Some of my friends have paid caregivers, some use government programs and some rely on some combination of siblings, neighbors and good luck. Though my friends hail from different backgrounds–Irish, Italian, Greek, Indian, Puerto Rican, and African-American—they are all experiencing the same challenge: how to care for parents who need assistance to live their lives as independently as possible while also supporting their own kids, as children or as young adults. It’s a challenge that brings some caregivers to the doors of Independence Care System, too.

Almost all of my friends have moved to be close to their parents or their parents have moved to be close to them. Our society has encouraged people to fly from the nest, but in the end, many of the people I know have ended up building a new nest that fits their young family and their aging parents. All of my friends are spending money to care for their parents, whether it is in the form of direct ongoing financial support or support for specific costs like housing, home care, prescriptions, and food. Many are also helping with day-to-day activities like shopping and paying bills while also providing friendship and companionship. And it’s not just my friends. It’s the same all over the country. According to a 2013 Pew Research and Social and Demographic Trends report, nearly half of all Americans (47%) between the ages of 40 and 59 have a parent over 65 and are raising a child or supporting an adult child. (For more on the report, click here.)

Managing the balancing act

As to how to cope with the demands of these dual responsibilities, the most fundamental advice is this: get help. For those “sandwich generation” caregivers who come to ICS and whose parents are eligible to become members of our Medicaid managed long-term care plan, a host of services are available that will lighten the caregiver’s load and enhance the member’s independence and day-to-day life.

Beyond that, a gleaning of the many articles I’ve read in popular magazines and based on my own life experience as a member of that sandwich generation for 8 years now, here are some tips I’ve learned for managing the balancing act and living to tell about it:

  • Take breaks—that’s the most frequently cited piece of advice. While you may be thinking – who has time to take time?—in fact, you do. You must. Remember the oxygen-on-the-plane analogy? If you don’t first take care of yourself, who will take care of your baby?
  • Escape! Do this by taking time to indulge in something you really enjoy—mindless TV, a walk in the park, an afternoon movie all by yourself; give yourself what is to you a real treat. And every now and then, just declare a day of rest – no cleaning, no chores, no errands, no doctor visits, no play dates, no parties.
  • It takes a village to keep your parents going. Recently after some setbacks with my parents, I asked my siblings who live far from where my parents and I live to check in with my parents more often. Every day they called was one less day I had to call. But here’s the thing; I had to ASK OUT LOUD to get the help I needed. As caregivers, we often wish people would help, but wishing doesn’t make it so. Asking might.
  • Have the difficult conversation with your spouse/partner about what you can afford financially and emotionally to spend on your parent’s well-being while also meeting the needs of your child or children.
  • Have the same difficult conversation with your parents. My mom is aware of the pressure we are all under and often asks for meetings to talk about how things are going (she reads the same magazines I read).
  • Now set the expectations and boundaries that everyone has agreed to, and work hard to maintain them.
  • Enjoy your family. My parents crack me up and even when we are out doing something unpleasant, we can find a good laugh in something. Someday, sooner than I would like, they will be gone and I will miss them so I try to remind myself to really enjoy the good times.
  • As the caregiver, you get to see your folks a lot and to demonstrate to your kids what kindness and respect look like (Hey, you will get old someday too!)
  • Get comfortable with messy. Your house will not be as clean, your finances will not be as tidy, and you will have to deal with things you never thought you’d have to deal with (like seeing your mom naked at the doctor—hello!).
  • Learn your lessons. Look at your aging parent’s situation and figure out how you want to age. Fix what you can now. Need a will? Get one. Need a healthcare proxy. Get one. Want to be financially independent into your 90s? Start saving. What to be healthy and get to your 90s? Start eating right and exercising.

The truth is we do not all get to be old. Some of us will die before we have the chance. And while some will see this as a blessing and others a curse, having this unique insight into aging by watching people you care about age is a master class on how get there with grace.

The ICS Voices Blog will continue to explore the role of caregiving in our lives, including the lives of our members and their caregivers. We hope this series of articles will provide you with some insight and support. Would you like to tell us your story? Write to me at loonie@icsny.org.

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